Skip to main content

tv   Hearing Focuses on Rural Development and Energy Programs  CSPAN  September 29, 2017 5:12pm-6:40pm EDT

5:12 pm
where history unfolds daily. >> members of congress return to capitol hill on monday. the house meeting at noon for speeches. bill debate starts at 2:00 p.m. eastern live on cspan. the senate comes into session at 3:00 p.m. eastern to debate the nomination of fcc chair to serve a second term on the commission. senators will vote on the confirmation at 5:pau 30 eastern. you can watch on cspan 2. >> the senate agricultural committee held a hearing to consider rule development and energy programs in the 2018 farm bill. kansas senator pat roberts chairs the committee. >> good morning members of the committee. i call this hear iing, the committee on agriculture to
5:13 pm
order. today's hearing marks the ninth hearing this year. dedicating to listening to stakeholders on how our programs are currently working or need improvement as we work towards a a farm bill reauthorization by this congress. this includes taking a look at spending requests and proposals for 39 programs in the belt that do not have a budget baseline. our committee must be mindful the very tough budgetary environment that we have to face. while it is a principle duty of this committee, to ensure the next farm bill provides our nation's agricultural producers with the necessary tools and rories to feed a growing and hungry world, a responsibilities in the world of u.s. day do not stop there. the it is also critical to support rural businesses and cooperatives and health clinics
5:14 pm
and schools, renewable energy and bio based product manufacturers and other essential service providers. we serve as the backbone of the communities our farmers and ranchers call home. earlier this year, at our committee's first field hearing in manhattan, kansas, home of the ever optimistic and fighting wildca wildcats, we had the opportunity to hear from a number of stakeholders that i believe share much of the same passion and commitment to rural america today. to the witnesses, i apologize. we listened to the manager after the electric cooperative explain how well interests and utility services and loans make it possible for small cooperatives to provide rural candidates with afford bable and reliable energy. the producer smoke spoke about the important role renewable energy plays in a new market
5:15 pm
demand for a number of mod xhodties important to all of our member states. and we heard a rural telecom provider discuss daily challenges she faces. >> the distinguished chairman has departed. with 3 million fewer people i hope today's conversation will provide opportunities to hear a broader perspective of the needs throughout farm country. for the rules housing service and business cooperatives. and america and provide an
5:16 pm
update on program functions. for our second panel, we'll hear from a broad set of stakeholders including representatives of cooperatives who work every day to provide essential utilities to farmer, ranchers and small towns across the country. a university professoren and chemical product development. save on energy. instructions today regarding the and hearing from witnesses
5:17 pm
needed to grow and thrive. >> well, thank you very much, mr. chairman for holding this hearing. this is such an important hearing to discuss issues that are so critically important to small towns and rural communities in michigan and kansas and all across the country. i want to welcome our witnesses today. thank you for your work. earlier this year, we held a hear iing to examine the state the farm and rural economy. there, we heard loudly and clearly those who work in rural america are facing tough economic times, what we also learned is that there are ma many -- create good paying jobs. rural communities to feel the effects of an economic on an
5:18 pm
improving economy. as a result, we should be make ing more investments. looking ahead to the next bill, we need to think long-term. the rural development and energy titles that we're discussing today have a wealth of opportunities. i grew up in one of those small towns in northern michigan and i know how important it is to have robust support for agriculture and business expansion. it's very personal for me. in order to for our communities to thrive, they need to be able
5:19 pm
to compete in the 1ist century economy. improving access to high speed internet. it's one of the top ways to make sure that happens. usda provides critical support and capital to expand broad band access. we need the to strengthen the tools b available to extend high speed internet to every corner of the country. we also need to continue investing in other forms of infrastructure. it's unacceptable that there are small towns that cannot afford to modernize their water systems. small businesses need access to capital as well. while also offering new employment opportunities for the community at large. in michigan, agricultural and
5:20 pm
manufacturing are the heart of our economy. we don't have a middle class unless we make things and grow things. instead of using petroleum, companies are creating new product frs american grown crops. the benefit is twofold. new markets for farmers and new jobs. additionally, the farm bill invests in renewable energy, which also leads to job creation. there are now 92,000 clean energy jobs in michigan alone. the popular energy for america helps producers and businesses lower their bills through installing energy systems an, making energy efficiency upgrades.
5:21 pm
and pay less that the at the pump. it's clear the opportunities we created, excuse me, in the 2014 farm bill are helping our small towns. create jobs and support communities where parents want to raise their children, so as we begin work on the next bill, i look forward to building on that progress. to help rural america reach its full potential. thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank the senator. mr. chairman. >> in the event i can't get back or have a witness, is that possible if it's on the second panel? i have a panelist today from
5:22 pm
south dakota. incredibly capable general manager and telecommunications cooperative which is in wall, south dakota. my dad still lives there. he'll be 98 in december. he spends a lot of time wahoffing cable and the internet and probably one of my most informed and least paid constituents. inevitably, he calls me to complain about whatever he's seeing that we're doing. golden west has been around for a long time and denny has a 27 year history in that industry all in south dakota. and what makes his current job as ceo of golden west telecommunications so challenging is his company's location in one of the most rural areas of the country. with ranch and farming operations positioned miles apart and often one to two hours
5:23 pm
from a larger city like rapid city. yet he's managed to meet the challenges by developing reliable broad brand providing access for jobs, education and health care. he's helped keep a large part of south dakota in charge of the telecommunications industry that most of us take for granted. denny has served as general manager of sioux valley in south dakota. went on to become the eastern region manager and served as ceo since 2008. got a bachelor's degree in science and journalism which means he's very conflicted when it comes to the football season. but i want to thank him for appearing before this committee and for sharing your recommendations on how this committee through the next farm bill can help you and your company improve access to broad band and rural areas. i thank you for that indulgence and appreciate having him here today.
5:24 pm
>> thank you, senator. i know you're very busy and urge you to keep working on tax reform as a very important member of the finance committee. especially on behalf of the roberts amendment as it's known in south dakota or in -- today, miss ann serves as substantiate to the secretary for rural development. an indiana native. ann has worked on agriculture and rural issues for over 15 years. she was the director of agriculture for her home state. she was an adviser to the governor at that time.
5:25 pm
she is a graduate of kansas state university. graduating with a bash leadoff of science in agriculture. she holds a masters from the university of arkansas. the next witness is mr. rich davis. he has been serving as deputy administrator for community programs and rural development since august of 2010. th help improve facilities in rural areas. these include health care,
5:26 pm
school, public safety and a variety of other types. sy, we thank you for your service and thank you for pg here today. next is mr. parker. has worked development for more than 26 years and his current capacity, he manages a team that provides assistance to rural communities in areas of property development, research and education. quite a list. hard to pronounce u. thank you for your service. the last witness is mr. mcclean, acting director of the rural utilities service. rus. he oversees the operations of the planning, policy and finance agency focused on rural,
5:27 pm
electric telecommunications broad band water and sewer systems. thanks to the witnesses for being here today. ann, why don't you kick off. >> good morning. i'm honored to discuss prosperity in rural america, a passion i know i share with each of you today and a topic of critical importance as you write the next farm bill. growing up in indiana, agriculture and small towns rb have been my life's calling. start ng the 4-h program as a young girl, i followed by love of farming into college and law school so i could be an advocate for rural america. over the course of my career, i've been blessed to serve as counsel to the natricultural co. i've had a chance to represent my home state.
5:28 pm
in each of these chapters, developed an appreciation for the role of policy and partnerships in assisting communities craft and execute a vision for their future. i have a deep respect for each of you as chief advocates for the interest of your state and understanding of the chals you face in writing a bill that will meet so many different needs. conditions in many communities are incredibly challenging. today, 85% of the poorest counties are in rural areas. when kids get older and look to begin their career, few come home to the towns in which they xwru up and in many small towns, there's not the access to critical infrastructure that folks need to stay connected to a modern economy.
5:29 pm
when we look at these challenges, we are asking what can we do to make a difference to help build prosperity? in answering that important question, i have found the best answers come from the ground outside of d.c. just last week, i made a visit to olivia, minnesota, a small city that has recently built a day care, asking how the town had come to make this ward looking investment, i was told the reason was simple. when any sight slkter comes to visit, they're looking for four things. day care, high speed internet, good roads and rail access. we want to be a partner to communities like olivia in building prosperity. through the farm bill, congress has p provied tded tools. secretary purdue has set several priorities for the team.
5:30 pm
we are developing solutions for four key issues impacting rural america. quality of life, rural workfo e workforce, innovation and development. with these resource, we will be looking to work in strong collaboration with our many partners at the state and local level who are on the front lines making a difference in these communities. it is a necessity, not amenity. with that, a new infrastructure fund would offer a fund that would respond to the needs of rural america such as broad band connectivity. finally, we are focused on innovation. finding new ways to assist communities in addressing the many challenges and opportunities they face.
5:31 pm
led by an officer, this team will house several important functions. we help this will assist communities in developing sluss. i want to extend a heartfelt thank you for what you to each day to be a strong voice. as you move forward, we are committed to working with each of you to ensure that rural america is a place of prosperity for generations the come. thank you. >> good morning members of the committee. i appreciate this opportunity to testify before you today. let me begin by thank g congress for its ongoing support. the world housing service has
5:32 pm
made significant and transformtive investments to strengthen the nation's small towns and rural communities. if program, a key part of the rhs portfolio, supports this mission by investing in critically need ed infrastructure. our program provides rural america with access to much needed capital. where financial options are are limited or nonexistent. in recent year, mohannad for the low cost long-term financing has surged and the direct program has experienced a nine fold inkrecrease in funding level. continues to maintain a strong pipeline of projects for next year. the portfolio is 8.8 billion
5:33 pm
with the majority in the world health care sector, education alpha silties, public buildings and safety infrastructure. the financial health remains strong and the direct loan program will have a negative credit subsidy rate in fis year 18. it also lends itself well to addressing current issues and challenges face rural america. rhs can play an important role in the crisis by streptenning the investment in mental health care and other facilities that provide treatment and recovery support. by supporting a wide range of day care including charter
5:34 pm
schools. a positive start will provide children with opportunities to further education and achievement. this program supports institutions to meet needs and physician and other skilled professional shortages across rural america. in recent years as the size and complexity of our prokts has grown, facile to leverage critical financial project management, technical expertise and innovation to leverage large complex community infrastructure projects. as we move ford war, rhs the confident it will successfully
5:35 pm
implement the programs needed for a thrive v thriving rural america. thaupg for this opportunity to share with you how rhs expanding equal opportunity in rural america through improve iing th quality of life. thank you. >> we thank you, especially being on time. mr. parker. >> good morning. chairman roberts an members of the committee, thank you for this opportunity to discuss our programs through increasing access to capital and expabding the economy including bio fuels and renewable energy. they are at forefront improving lives. our programs keep jobs in rural america and help economies
5:36 pm
compete in a global marketplace. to date in 2017, the rural business cooperative service has successfully delivered $1.7 billion in funding to rural americans. that helped 12,500 businesses create or save about 55,000 jobs. our path forward is to focus on our able thety to efficiently and responsibly find government services that meet the needs of rural americans. the service remains committed to revitalizing communities by expanding economic opportunity, creating jobs and proving infrastructure and expanding markets for existing businesses in order to ensure a vibrant economy. we administer loan and grant programs that not only make capital available, but attract investment capital to rural areas that might not see such investments.
5:37 pm
the service is a leader promote ing the expansion of o projects and jobs in rural america. we administer a suite of programs that promote a sustainable energy feature. the rural energy for america program is our most successful program. reap promoting development for agricultural producers and smaud businesses. in 2017 alope, reap will provide funding for other 100 projects with total costs over $1 billion and leverage nearly 18 times the amount of budget authority provided for the year. they provide job opportunities and enhances educational services that enable them to compete in a global economy. they create job opportunities and revenues are maintained and
5:38 pm
recirculating locally. one of the larnlest cooperatives is the value added. the grant funds may be uses for planning activities and working capital for markets value added products and farm based renewable energy. the rural business cooperative service is committed to promoting economic prosperity and communities through improved access. as we move forward, we kopt to examine -- and look for funts to create efficiencies and seek to target and leverage resource for the impact. thaupg for the time, mr. chairman and members of the committee. it's an honor to be here today and i hope my testimony is informative. >> thank you for your 2 years.
5:39 pm
mr. mcclain. >> thaupg for the opportunity to testify today and thaupg for your support for rural lek rick, water, tell dmun kagss and broad band infrastructure investment. the storms remind us how important basic infrastructure is. the heroic response of utility workers helping damaged systems restore power, communications and water illustrates the true spirit of rural america and the long-term success of the public private partnership that has been nurtured by this committee and the usda. usda investments and basic infrastructure helped deliver faster electricity, internet and clean, safe water to help healthy communities grow and prosper. today, our rural utilities properortfolio of lopes outstan
5:40 pm
is nearly $60 billion. program level is $9 billion. our partners are investing in smart grid technologies to increase efficiency and hardening the grid against natural and manmade disaster. this year, rus expects to obligate over $4 billion in improvements in every element of the grid as well as new investments in renewable energy. our program finances services. 40,000 lack access to robust, reb liable, modern broad band service. during fy 17, our u.s. expects to obligate $427 million for the state-of-the-art telecommunications an broadband technologies in some of the nation's more -- areas.
5:41 pm
these connect the world to the information age. programs are making profoubd differences. so far, we have donated to provide broadband in some of the most underserved communities and $20 million for distance learning and tell medicine projects in our water and virmal programs, rus works to support waste water project, serving the most needy communities in our nation. we are focused on helping communities provide the quality water and waste water services that are essential to the health, safety and economic future of those who live and work in and around small town america. for fy 17 -- for our entire
5:42 pm
agency, the u.s. continues to work to streamline proceed yurs and automate where we can. for example, our new rd apply system allowing borrowers and the agency to reduce paper, approval and enhance efficiency. we continue to work to improve the customer experience as well as make sound decisions that deliver value to the american taxpay taxpayer. thank you again for the opportunity to discuss how rus works. >> thank you, mr. mcclain. let's start with you. share with us your vision under secretary purdue's leadership. this is new for the rural development innovation center. is there a particular example you could tell us about regarding how u the center would approve the substantiate provided to our rural communities?
5:43 pm
>> both our programs and people to partner and one of the ways we want to do that is through innovation. i mentioned the innovation center he's announced his intention to create. this is a team that's going to work alongside the three agency administrators and carry out a number of important activities such as data analysis, program outcomes measurement, we're also looking to drive some other active from the center that would be designed to foster capacity building and partnership development. a specific example i think that i can give is in the area of trepd analysis and partnerships. when we think about communities and rural america and some of the xhal challenges they face, whether it's the loss of a particular sector of its economy or the rise of a new health challenge such as the opioid
5:44 pm
epidem epidemic, we hope ha a team can help those communities by identifying best practices that have been successful in other communities addressing that same issue. and link them to other tools. i have an example from kansas. i had an opportunity to visit on real health care with secretary jackie mcklaas ki, as well as mr. holder from the kansas farm bureau. they were interested in the challenge of recruit iing docto to rural communities. we had a discussion about best practices. i think that's a specific ex example of an issue that's in many other states as well that the innovation team could help with. >> appreciate that very much. mr. davis. >> i cosponsored a bill this year which would prioritize the community for the pha a silty
5:45 pm
funding for improvements to addiction treatment. could you xhept on the ban your agency has seen over the past couple of years for r projects focused on addiction treatment? i think we have a big problem out there. >> i agree. we have seen an uptick in the interest in these facile theties. in the past fiscal here, we've ip vested in $300 million of sub tans abuse, disorder type facilities to treat ofolks with those issues and currently, we're seeing a pipeline into fiscal year 18 of about 400 million. in these needs for these facilities. yes, we're seeing that need and thank you for the funding we've received to help invest in those
5:46 pm
types of facilities. >> i appreciate that very much. mr. parker, you oversee a wide variety to say the least of programs that assist rural businesses. could you discuss how the programs were stimulating rural economies in a targeted way? >> thank you for the question. yes, we, our cooperative programs provide loans and guarantees. they also do numerous other targeted ways to improve rural american and rural business lives. some of the ways are we provide one by having that deal staff working in each of our rural communities. they can work with the business organizations, the local lenders to make sure there's access to capital and they understand how to reach those pieces of
5:47 pm
capital. >> some of our programs allow community lenders, banks and other types of lenders because we put a guarantee on those loans, they're able to sell portions of those loans out to the dare market allowing this em to continue to lend in their community what their normal limit would be. we have programs that reduce energy costs. we have four programs that help create new programs and producers, allowing them to gain ref knews from value added projects. we have programs that gather funds and invest in a strategic manner through investment funds into rural communities. we have ways that provided with resources and activities around
5:48 pm
the development of cooperatives and development of new businesses. providing funding to ogss who assist in those ways. we have programs that provide technical stance, job training and feasibility studies, so our businesses aren't wasting cap they go in and invest. >> thank you. i have a quick question for you. mr. mcclain, this was for the entire panel, but time does not permit me to ask qulou this one question. to all of you. trz mr. mcclain, what would be the key challenge that you face the programs that are authorized? can you name me, give me your key challenge? >> thank you, senator. i would say that the key issue, we have a passion for broad band
5:49 pm
deployment. prz to connect all of rural america. our primary tool that we have able to us are loan dollars. those loans depend significantly on revenue streams that are under the jurisdiction of the federal communications commission. and the key challenge for us is to be able to make long-term lending based on the promise of the act of 1996 a specific, predictable and universe tall service support and where we see stability in the support levels, with see growth and demand for our loan products. where we have uncertainty of the predictability of that support, there is a hesitancy of the private sector to be b able to invest in telecommunications in rural areas. the good news is in kansas, they're figuring it out. we have some of our finest bar
5:50 pm
owners and great examples. in fact, we recently approved a kansas loan in our senior loan committee our senior loan committee and we are rtc in western kansas that is doing wonderful things there. but it is a big, big challenge and it depends very much on revenue sources that are beyond the control of the service provider and beyond the control of the agency. >> thank you very much, senator -- >> thank you, mr. chairman, and welcome again to all of you, and i appreciate your work. first of all, welcome back to the committee. it's wonderful to have you back with us, and broadly, before getting in to specifics, i know that you said in your system that the usda rural development thanks in part to the farm bill is the only agency in the federal government that has the mission of creating jobs in
5:51 pm
rural areas. supporting small businesses. basic infrastructure and providing access to high speed internet. that's why i was very concerned i know you were not there at the time when the president put out his budget as we looked at the cuts in all of the areas. and so, wonder if you could speak to, in broad measures, you know, where you see us going on rural development and do you think we need more resources in rural development or less? >> thank you, ranking member for raising that concern. i would simple respond that i understand rural is different. that no two rural communities are same and while they may face similar challenges this may need different resources to address those challenges. i'm committed to being a partner in rural prosperity and working
5:52 pm
with you and the members of this committee to nemeet the needs o your rural constituents and i'm committed to making effective and efficient use of the resources that congress provides to meet those needs. >> thank you very much. look forward to working with you on that as well. and i would just say from our side, on actually -- bipartisan concern of making sure we are not cutting back on significant things like rural water, infrastructure, or small business and so on. i would like to talk about broad band, which is a passion of mine and you were talking about it being a passion of your in your agencies as well. when we think of how we move forward, quality of life in small towns where, whether it's small business it es that want
5:53 pm
sell their product around the world, or whether it's our hospitals that want to connect and provide the highest quality medical care or whether it's schools and so on and so on. we know that this is the piece. at least i believe it's the piece and would like you to speak to this and have each of you speak about the priority of making sure that we are connecting and not leaving rural america behind right now as technology is moving so fast. so, i would like to know your kbhe comments further about rural broadband and high speed internet and whether or not you will commit to using every tool at your disposal to expand high speed internet to small towns and rural communities. in michigan as well as all across the country.
5:54 pm
>> we are taking a by any means necessary in the rural utility service using every tool that we have available to us. my colleague, keith adams who heads the telecom program works to coordinator our efforts in our electric program. we are seeing rural electric cooperatives deploying smart grid technologies that use fiber assets that are leveraged in partnership with local telcos or the co-ops themselves to provide consumer based broadband services. we are seeing some amazing projects come before our loan committee, where we have reliable revenues, where we are seeing fiber to the home. we just approved a batch of loans in south dakota that are some of the more remote areas that are bringing fiber to the home technology. so, it is possible to be able to do this. but there are segments of the
5:55 pm
rural market that the story is still being written as to what levels of support will be available. there's a major proceeding at the federal communications commission to address those rural areas of large telecom providers that need levels of support and we are watching very, very closely and where appropriate, providing advice on how those new support mechanisms will reveal themselves and inspire investors rural electric cooperatives and small town telecon companies and new providers to invest in broadband services in those under served areas. >> i know my time is up, would anyone else like to speak from your perspective? ms. hazlett?
5:56 pm
>> i would add, just stepping out from the program side for a second. i would raise the opportunity for collaboration here. i medicationed the agriculture and rural prosperity task force that secretary purdue is leading. a lot of this from his perspective kms down to leadership and needing to see the different federal agencies working together that plays a role in this. i know he and chairman pie are in close contact in looking at how the policies can be driving toward that common goal. >> and i would just say, that i think it's the issue of the moment. at one point, it was collecting -- it was connecting the farmhouse at the end of the road with the phone and with electricity and now, it high-speed internet and if we don't fix that, we are not going to see the quality of life that we want in our rural communities. thank you. >> senator -- >> well, it's interesting, this really, i just echo what the ranking member just said, this is so, so very important.
5:57 pm
i think in arkansas, 84%, we are not doing as well as kansas evidently, i need to visit with the chairman about that. 84% lack access to quality broadband, which is 30% higher than the national average. it is something that really is very, very important. i guess the question i would have, ms. hazlett and mr. mclean, we are getting ready to write the farm bill, what policies do we need to change, what do we need to do differently to make it such that it's easier, you know, to get these i think th-- to get these done. >> thank you for that question and thank you for your leadership on this issue. as we look at the importance of broadband infrastructure and the tool, the lifeline it is for quality of life and economic
5:58 pm
prosperitity, we are really looking at this at usda from three different pieces. i mentioned looking at the different agencies that we are working on the topic at the federal level and making sure there's better collaboration there, also, looking at how to increase innovation in the deployment of this technology, and then the third piece is what you are tauching on, what are the internal processes and programs that we have at usda and how can we make the tools easier to use and easier to apply for. we look forward to working with the committee as you write the bill to offer specific improvements to the farm bill program. >> bringing revenues up and stable, whether it's through the customer base or state and federal universal support mcnimmcnimp -- mechanisms. and the way we bring costs down
5:59 pm
is by providing affordable finance and long-term finance to those that do invest, and then, looking for opportunities for partnership and leveraging. if we can find multiple uses for the same infrastructure. it brings the cost down for all of those users. so, we are seeing synergies between smart grid and broadband. we are seeing it between public safety and broadband deployment when rural providers deploy broadband, we are also seeing wireless provider taking advantage of that capacity along the highways. so, we are -- it finding multiple uses for the same infrastructure to bring the cost of the infrastructure down and having a reliable source of financing and revenues for those who are actually -- those investors are putting their dollars at stake. >> good, very good. i know you all are committed.
6:00 pm
you know the secretary purdue is committed and understands the importance of this, and as you are hearing from the committee, you know, something that is on our mind, the mind of our constituents, you simply can't go forward in in this day and age that we live without having that ability. i would like to switch gears a bit. ms. hazlett, the water and wastewater loan grants are important to rural america, including arkansas. in the epw subcommittee hearing that i chaired, one of my constituents testified about his struggles with a lack of running water. however with the assistance of the usda grant, they were able to drill wells to bring fresh reliable drinking water to their home and the homes of their neighbors. as we look to write legislation to address our nation's crumbling infrastructure and write the next farm bill, these
6:01 pm
two are not mutually exclusive. can you or mr. mclean talk about the water and wastewater programs in the usda and what can be done to ensure that rural america has access to safe reliable water? >> thank you for raising this important issue. i understand that the wat rear sources in rural communities are great, i have seen it in my own travels. we will certainly steward the resources that you provide to meet the challenges. if you provide the funding we will build infrastructure with the dollars provided. certainly, there's always opportunity for improvement in our programs. and i would allow administrator mclean to elaborate on specific opportunities that we might have to make this program even stronger. >> it's interesting this gentleman that i referenced was
6:02 pm
outside of fayetteville that you know very, very well. >> i do. >> yes, sir. >> thank you very much, and this year alone, the rural utility service has objeligated $35 million of investments in rural water in the state of arkansas. we are proud of that. very, very innovative municipalitys that are bringing water and sewer systems to their communities. but it's hard. it's tough. our loan and grant programs are focus odd communities of 10,000 or less. and we have to mix that loan and grant combination in order to try to target the grant dollars to those areas that are needed the most. and there's always more demand for resources than we have available. and we just, we work really hard to be able to spend down to the very last penny in order to
6:03 pm
invest the resources wisely. >> thank you, and thank you mr. chairman. >> senator lahey. >> thank you mr. chairman. i thank the panel. i mentioned we have with a judiciary committee meeting going on, two doors away. and i try to hit both of them. i am always concerned in rural development matters. one of the reasons that i have stayed in this committee all the years, and coming from as rural a state as you are going to find, we have fortunately the opioid epidemic that is devastating our communities, including the rural areas in vermont. senator roberts and senator d e donnley have introduced a bill,
6:04 pm
that has direct loans and grants for substance abuse and disorder treatment services, including tele-medicine facilities and so on. and i think we should make it a priority. but i think we also had to find new resources to combat it. we should find a way in the farm bill to increase funding for community facilities. combat opioid addictions, ms. hazlett i know you are looking at this closely and i ask you this, will you support efforts, not only to make a priority of grants that will combat the opioid epidemic but increase our investment in community facilities, direct loans and grants to continue serving communities as loan and grants do now, and what can we do to strengthen the programs for those struggling with opioid. it's become in someplaces, you
6:05 pm
know, an epidemic, it's not a democrat or republican issue, i think it's fair to say that every senator on this panel worries about it. >> thank you, senator, for raising this important issue and thank you for your leadership. secretary purdue recently held a listening session in new hampshire where he heard from various stakeholders about the crisis and we had an opportunity to see the things that are working in the northeast well to address the issue. i think, you know, usda's role in the topic, we certainly have that the immediate shortterm programs for communities to access as they are helping build that immediate response, our communities and facilities program is certainly one of them. we have the distance learning as well as prevention grant resources, i think another
6:06 pm
significant opportunity for usda really is that longer horizon, however, where we are well positioned to be a strong partner in addressing some of the root challenges that are often at the heart of this issue. >> you are going to need more money in these programs to do that. is that correct? >> more resources will be needed. >> will you push for the resources? >> you have my commitment to stewart the resources provided. >> are you going to push for more resources. >> i'm part of appropriation's committee. >> you have my commitment to steward the resources provided. >> well, i would say, to steward them, you have to get them and i realize the rerestraints but you have to talk to secretary purdue about this too. you have to ask for the money. you have to push for the money.
6:07 pm
>> senator, i'm sure that you and i will receive a call from, and if not the secretary for adequate funding on this most important topic and we are united in that effort. >> this is not a republican or democratic thing. we are all concerned. and we also have the forest economy, vermont depends on $1.4 billion forest based economy every year. which is a lot of money in a small state like ours. we have really nice forests. healthy. but in vermont, across the new england, where we are struggling with the recent loss of important markets for low-grade work due to the closure of several pulp and bio-mass mills. we need a market, of course, for high-grade wood, we see it in construction and furniture and everything else. we also need it, low grade.
6:08 pm
we have to have both if we are going to really manage our forests. and if you have nonexistent or poor forest management. we all know that fires can occur. can rural development or existing farm bill help to expand forest products market and support a strng forest products industry? we talk about about the crops we are all used to, but forests are part of it, are they not? >> thank you, senator for raising an important sector of the northeast economy. i had an opportunity to travel to secretary purdue to the northeast earlier this month and saw first hand the importance of the industry in the region. i am committed to preserving and enhancing the diverse rural economy through rural
6:09 pm
developments's many programs i will let the acting administrator, mr. parker to elaborate on the tools that might be there to help that sector. >> and my last question, mr. chairman, i was disappointed when i saw the president's budget proposed to eliminate rural housing grant programs, including 504 -- and 515. these provide affordable housing. and essential to rural america. will you --ask iing you, will you work with the committee, we all have rural areas that are affected to find out how to create a sustainable housing strategy for rural america that is sustainable at both
6:10 pm
affordability and access? >> thank you, senator, appreciate the importance of that issue in rural communities and we will work with you to ensure innovation and we leverage the resources provided. >> mr. davis, you will work on us too? >> absolutely, sir. >> kind of expected that answer. i just wanted to hear it. >> well, know, we would be most interested in working with you. it is an important segment of the rural economy, of rural america. and important to the success of rural america. so, absolutely. >> thank you. >> i noted that mr. davis nods his head up and down vigorously. >> let it show in the record that it was a vigorous nod. >> that's correct. >> senator? >> thanks for holding the hearing. i spent decades in the private sector before entering public
6:11 pm
service. in fact, i got to be part of building a world class cloud computing company in my hometown. i know the impact that technology has in our communities and how access to broadband can break down geographic cal barriers. as we say back home, technology has removed geography as a r restraint. they can have access to global markets. when oracle acquired our company several years ago as they were building out their global cloud structure. think of this, they have three cloud command centers around the world. for the seventh largest which is now oracle. for the americas, it's boseman,
6:12 pm
montana, so it demonstrates that we are not talking about backwaters players now. this is nba level, first string companies that, in the technology sector. but this is going to be impossible to keep moving forward unless we close this rural urban gampt the gap between high speeds that urban residents have in the lack of any speeds that rural residents have. i have found it interesting, sometimes i hear that we have to get from 4-g to 5-g in some of these areas there's places in montana that have not found the alphabet we are not talking about g, it's one of the reasons i'm hosting a montana tech summit, we are going to bring industry and government leaders together to talk about how technology can help rural communities grow. additionally programs like the farm bill, braundband loans and community connect grants are important to rural areas across the country. however, they only work when
6:13 pm
applied correctly and efficiently in kmaunts that truly have need. our u.s. broadband loans and grants have he hadded many communities. but it's been limited in my home state of montana, for example, montana has not yet received a community connect grant during the program's 15 year tenure. can you explain this and how montana businesses and communities can be better utilizers of this important program? >> sure, thank you. i would be delighted to. first of all, montana does -- has some of the finest rural telecom companies in america, including lincoln telephone that recently secured a rus loan in telecon infrastructure. we are proud of that partnership. the challenge is that it's small
6:14 pm
in number of dollars and highly, highly competitive. the focus on our grant programs in general, whether it's in tell communications, electric, or water. it's to focus the limited dollars for the areas that have had the highest need. the scoring criteria will focus the most under served. community connect is focused on those that have no broadband, no availability at all and we are able to do right around ten or so grants a year based on the dollars that are appropriated, some years it's been significantly less. a couple of years we have been able to shake out of the cushions and get a few extra dollars and make it more. but, it's been typically right around $10 million, and we can do about ten grants and they are
6:15 pm
just very, very, very competitive. we are delighted to work with communities and we do webinars, and we would be happy to help advise community groups on how to apply. and would be looking forward to working with you and your staff to find ways to improve the success rate. >> thank you, i want to shift gears for a moment in the time i have left to talk about tribal broadband issues. montana is home to 12 federally recognized tribes. according to the fixed broadband report, 65% of the population on tribal lands lack access to fixed telecommunications services. 65%. many small companies in montana have stepped up to bring wireless and broadband access,
6:16 pm
we are fragrateful for that. i think the federal government plays a role in this. question to you both, what is our u.s. doing to expand access to tribal communities? >> thank you very much, tribal communities are a key focus of our outreach, we are frequently in contact with tribal organizations and working with the fcc and ntia to provide outreach and explain how our programs work. one of the challenges that we do face in tribal communities are frankly our rights of way, where the ownership of land is often a checkerboard, some land is privately held. some land is held in trust. and some land is held by families that dispersed maybe not even aware of their ownership of the land. and i actually worked on a, there was a major project in
6:17 pm
montana that ran right up against that problem. and it was not able to be completed because there was inability to be able to get consensus on how the rights of way would be managed. >> thank you, i know we are out of time. we are good at playing checkers in montana with the nature of land ownership for sure. thank you for the comments. >> senator donnelly. >> thank you, mr. chairman. and i would like to thank ann hazlett, thank you for your service so much. it's great to see a fellow hoosier here in the committee before we get in to the questions. i want though thank you for your service to indiana and the country. i want to ask you also, about an issue that i know is dear to your heart and mind and to many hoosiers and to all of us. i know you are aware of the difficultiys that many of the communities having and responding to the challenges of
6:18 pm
addicti addictions. i have been working with a number of members on the committee to make sure that usda have the resources that it needs to help the communities respond effectively. i have fortunate to work on a bill to provide communities with what is needed. opioids and substance abuse impacts every community, but accessing treatment is a challenge in rural areas. can you discuss how the usda community facilities and tele-medicine centers will help rural communities address the crisis? >> thank you for raising this important issue and for your leadership on it. the -- both of the programs that you highlight are certainly being used well route now, to address both providing treatment facilities in communities as
6:19 pm
well as using innovation through telemedicine to access the services that may not be located in the immediate town. certainly mr. davis can go in to specific numbers that we have with those programs. i think one of the things that i would like to circle back to, that i'm excited about, i mentioned in the beginning remarks,s that good example of an issue for communities find gz themselves in the crosshairs for the first time and wants to know what works well in other places, whether it's treatment resources or some of the other ways that a rural community might have a unique asset that be leveraged to address the challenge, that is a great example of where best practices are something that the innovation center can then disseminate so that communities do not feel alone. >> ms. hazlett, i am sure we both agree that substance abuse
6:20 pm
education and prevention programs are critical to not only treating the symptoms but to keep it from occurring in the first place. a program that you aware of, purdue extension offers substance abuse programs, strengths enfamilies program that showed that it lowered abuse in younger people. can you discuss how important for rural communities programs like these are for their families? >> i have had an opportunity to see that program first hand on the ground in scott county, indiana, and one of the great strengths on a program like that is that it is looking at some of the underlying causes that lead, for many of the situations, lead families in to many of the situations. when we look at the types of programs, i think we are not just changing that immediate situation, but we are potentially changing a generation and having a broader
6:21 pm
community conversation about factors that need to be addressed to have prosperitity and quality of life in the areas. things like public transportation, food security. literacy rates. it is becoming a catalyst for a broader conversation that will result in stronger communities and a stronger rural america for the future. >> thank you, ms. hazlett and thank you, mr. chairman. >> senator casey. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i wanted to start with a question for ms. had hazlett and pennsylvania initiative that has been replicated in other states. i want to make two brief comments. first, the broadband focus on this hearing and i think bipartisan concern about that is significant and i think the problem is urgent. i spent a lot of time in august going to counties in our state
6:22 pm
that are substantially rural. we have 67 counties and 48 of them are rural counties. and i was in counties where 50% p the folks that live in the county don't have high speed internet. 69% susquahanna 66% without the broadband. it's a major problem for kids in school and the like. we are grateful that there's a focus on it. we have to do a lot more. [ inaudible ]
6:23 pm
>> only rural economic development program, on and on and on. it comes to the administration. [ inaudible ] i wanted to ask you about though, the fresh food financing initiative, which is a success story from pennsylvania replicated in a number of states around the country. pennsylvania created over 5,000 jobs.
6:24 pm
it's a program where there's a substantial personal investment up front, but it worked out well in a lot of states. my question is how do you see that, how do you see that initiative in the department of agriculture going forward? because it's been battle tested and road tested and i want to get your sense of it. >> thank you, senator casey for raising an important issue, food, insecurity and hunger in rural communities is certainly a piece of quality of life as well as economic opportunity and prosperity. when we look at the healthy food financing initiative. i think you see an exciting model of a public/private partnership. not only a public/private partnership but an innovative
6:25 pm
way in solving a long-standing challenge in many communities. rural community is certainly not imimmune from that. we are looking forward to working with the national fund manager that has been designated nor progr for this program. it's an opportunity to learn from experiences and leverage the relationships that they have working in the sector to enhance further investments in the area. particularly in low income rural communities. >> well, i hope a we go forward if there's things that priorities, funding or otherwise, i hope you alert us to that. i have one more question and you can amplify it in writing. the value added producer grant is a valuable resource to assist small businesses and new and beginning veteran farmers with the development in marketing of new products to increase income
6:26 pm
. in our state, these grants have been awarded to market, custom beef processing, to create processed milk products and finish and bolth-- and bottled . can you talk about how this program can be expanded to reach new audiences? >> thank you, this program touches everything from jam to lotion to everything in between. it has really opened doors to new business opportunities for a broad range of agriculture producers, allowing thoem bring new products to market. as congress looks to improve the program in the next farm bill, we will be pleased to work with the committee about changes to make to improve its effectiveness. >> thank you very much. thank you. >> a vote has been called, in the interest of bipartisan ship
6:27 pm
which is a strong element of the committee. i'm yielding the gavel on a temporary basis. >> i don't know, mr. chairman, i may not give it back. >> there's always that worry. >> thank you, mr. chairman. >> i trust you. >> when you vote, i will go do the same. next up, senator bennett? >> thank you, mr. chairman, thank you madam chair. thank you for your service, all of you. i want to express my gratitude to the secretary of agriculture, secretary purdue, for hosting a meeting with senators that are concerned about the fire borrowing issue. which i know is not the topic of the hearing. i want to say to my colleagues, this is something that, solving this is long overdue, there's strong support. the secretary of agriculture
6:28 pm
much to his credit is following up on the comments he made, i hope we will come together and solve the issue for our states, not just our western states but states all over the country. ms. hazlett, i want to ask you a somewhat related question, i have been around colorado this year, it's clear that rural communities are continuing to struggle with this challenging commodity, the environment, farm incomes decreasing. but, also, in our part of the world with pro-longed drought and our limited access to affordable water. science estimates that 30 to 50% of carbon emissions can be -- there's additional value in our farmland that is not being taken in to account.
6:29 pm
i was pleased to hear last week the commitment to prioritize climate change in the interest of future generations. i agree with his assessment of that as well. and i think colorado's producers do as well. we have a unique opportunity to use usda programs to improve the livelihoods of the next generation through addressing climate change and diversifying economic opportunities for farmers and ranchers. i wanted to ask you, whether you are willing to work with the committee and our team to identify opportunities to decrease the amount of carbon pollution and enhance farm incomes? >> thank you senator bennett for raising this issue. you know, at usda, for many years our motto has been committed to the future of rural communities, our programs have adapted and adjusted to issues that were important at the time
6:30 pm
and that will not change. thank you. >> i'm glad to hear that, and i know on some ways we are on the cutting edge here. but it's so important for us to plan for the future to be resilient for the future and where there's the possibility of adding new streams of income to our farmers' and ranchers' operations it's critical to look at that. i wanted to talk about water infrastructure as well and let me also say, madam chair, that i think that the concern about broadband is one that everyone on this committee shares and our communities desperately share, when we say that one community can have broad band and another community cannot have broad band. it's like saying one group of students can have textbooks and another cannot. it's entirely unacceptable from this standpoint of rural children in my state and i know in your's as well. so, we have to stay focused on it. and i also just wanted to talk a
6:31 pm
bit about water infrastructure. i was in cuba meeting with the minister of agriculture who pointed out to me that they don't have a tractor in cuba that is newer than 50 years old. that seemed like a great opportunity for us. but then i left and thought to myself, well, we don't have water infrastructure that is less than 50 years old in a lot of parts of rural america and including in colorado. the usda has a significant backlog of loans and grants to rehabilitate water infrastructure. there's nearly $30 million backlog in colorado alone. despite that, the president's budget proposal zeroed out of the water infrastructure program. mr. mcclean, i would like to ask you what is the biggest hurdle
6:32 pm
to reducing the backlog in the program? >> well, we -- we execute the laws that congress passes and the appropriations that congress provides to our greatest extent possible, we try to focus our resources where they can be the most helpful. we typically allocate water funding to our state offices of rural development. and then, at the end of the year, if individual states don't use those dollars we pool them at the federal level and target them toward high priority projects. at any given time i have projects awaiting funding. and the creativity of our staff and the rural water and sewer authorities across the country,
6:33 pm
take those resources and leverage them and we look for every opportunity to stretch the dollars. >> would you say the backlog is there's not enough money? >> the backlog is projects awaiting funding. >> this is another place where we are failing to invest and i think we have to find a way, because we have to recognize there's budget constraints, we have to find a way to have a more creative approach to financing projects as well. i think the idea that they would zero out this particular part in the budget is just entirely unacceptable. i would say, to democrats and republicans on this panel and we will have to figure out a different solution. thank you, madam chair, and i thank my colleagues. >> thank you very much, and i would under score your comments as well. senator, welcome, and it's your turn. >> thank you, madam chair and
6:34 pm
thank all of you for your testimony. i want to pick up on the broadband deployment point. i heard senator bennett was talking or i saw, you nodding your head saying broadband deployment was essential to economic development in rural areas. do you agree with that? >> absolutely. >> and do you agree that we have -- to meet the needs of rural america? >> yes, sir. >> so i wanted to raise with you, the issue that's pending right now before the fcc. they have a 706 inquiry, are you familiar with that? >> yes, i am. >> i have been hear aing a lot about it from my state, the gist of the inquiry is whether or not, for the purposes of determines whether we have adequate broad band deployment in rural areas, or any area. we can say that wireless
6:35 pm
deployment is good enough and that we don't also have to look at the deployment of fixed broadband. are you familiar with that? >> yes, sir. >> okay. the national rural electric k p cooperative association is one of many that filed comments in the case and on page 2 of the filing they just state, flat out, "the commission -- meaning the fcc -- should continue to ahe is ses fixed and mobile broadband separately -- in a reasonable and timely fashion" do you agree with that statement? >> yes. >> you do. my question is whether or not the department of agriculture has weighed in or commented as well before the fcc with respect
6:36 pm
to the proposal that is pending, the 706 inquiry? >> so, i will defer to ms. hazlett -- senator -- secretary purdue -- deployment and connectivity in america. senator we will address the point. we have not filed ask a petitioner with the fcc, we have an ongoing dialog with the fcc, and the secretary of agriculture is chairing the agriculture and rural prosperity task force, which the chairman is a member,
6:37 pm
and they are, i can report that broadband is a key focus of that effort. and that dialog, although not proceeding as a formal petition, is ongoing, between the executive branch agencies. >> okay, i would just say if the secretary -- and i took the secretary at his word as well that he is engaged in the issues. if he is not fully a waur and engaged in what is happening with the fcc, the grants provided by the department of agriculture, the communication lanes and the broadband loans and granteds are all very important. but what is happening in the fcc can have a bigger impact on the deployment of broadband in rural areas. that is why you have the national rural electric cooperative and all others weighing in. i will ask you to -- ask you
6:38 pm
whether or not the department of agriculture will weigh in, with the fcc and let them know that the position of the department of agriculture is to not count wireless deployment as a total substitute for fixed deployment, there's a huge difference between the two, in terms of the capabilities, and the costs. so, i know you can't answer that today. i would like the department of agriculture to get back to us, to get back to me and tell me if you are willing to weigh in on it formally. everyone says, and i believe you that you care about broadband dae employment, this action will have a big impact on the future of broadband deployment in rural areas. thank you. >> thank you very much for those
6:39 pm
important questions. and senator grassly. >> i'm waiting for the second panel to ask questions. >> all right. very good. i think at this moment, we will thank each of you for being with us on the first panel and move to the second panel. we would and folks to come up and we will proceed, and -- as we switch, i'm going to recess for a moment so i can vote before the time runs out. senator roberts will be back in a moment. thank you. >> thank you.

4 Views

info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on